10 Fields of psychology to consider for your career
The most basic definition of psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “The discipline embraces all aspects of the human experience—from the functions of the brain to the actions of nations, from child development to care for the aged.”
Because the range of needed services can vary so widely, it’s no wonder there are so many different areas of psychology. If you’ve set your sights on a career in this field, be sure to do your research. You might discover one of the many specialty career fields in psychology could be a perfect match to your interests and goals.
To help you evaluate your options, we compiled a list of some common types of psychology careers. Keep reading for a breakdown that includes important information like education requirements, job description, salary potential and work environment.
Exploring 10 common branches of psychology
The psychology job market is expected to remain stable according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Overall employment is projected to increase by 3 percent through 2029, with faster projected growth for clinical, counseling and school psychologists in particular.
But before you get to work in this industry, you might consider narrowing your prospects to a particular area that matches your passion. Luckily, your options are numerous in this field. Learn more about some common psychologist specialties you might consider.
School psychologists are responsible for a range of duties, most notably providing psychological services to help students succeed academically, socially, behaviorally and emotionally. While most work with K-12 students and their families, some will also work with young adults like college freshmen. They also strive to create an inclusive and support learning environment for the school as a whole.
Those practicing in this area of psychology will likely need a master's degree and must meet the licensure requirements specific to their state.
According to the APA, this specialty aims to address behavioral and mental health issues in individuals of any age and across all ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Clinical psychologists provide assessment, consultation and intervention for individuals dealing with intellectual, emotional, psychological, social and behavioral maladjustment issues. They work with clients experiencing anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, substance abuse disorder or even those who have severe psychopathology.
While some clinical career fields in psychology are open to master's-qualified candidates, most will require a doctoral degree. The broad range of services provided by clinical psychologists means these jobs can be found in a number of different environments—from hospitals and mental health facilities to private and government-run organizations, such as schools, police departments and military branches.
Clinical child psychology is a specialty that helps deliver psychological services to infants, toddlers, children and adolescents. Professionals in this realm assess and treat a range of biological, psychological and social challenges that young patients experience.
Children’s struggles can sometimes stem from emotional and developmental problems. Other times, there could be health-related challenges holding a child back. Things like trauma and loss have their own stronghold over young patients, and clinical child psychologists—typically those with a doctoral degree—are trained to understand the unique needs of our young people and help them move past the hurdles blocking their paths.
You’ll find clinical child psychologists working in clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools and private practice environments. Depending on the setting, these healthcare professionals may specialize one of several different fields of psychology, including behavior during infancy, childhood or adolescence and developmental disabilities. Hopefuls can begin honing their skills in these areas as early as during the undergraduate experience with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a Child Psychology concentration.
Clinical health psychology is another offshoot of this industry. Doctorate-qualified practitioners in this field of psychology have expertise in addressing the interactions of social, cultural and biological factors as well as their potential impact on a person’s wellbeing. It is worth noting that all 50 states require at least a master’s degree to become a psychologist, but to practice clinically, you’ll need a doctorate.
Clinical health psychologists may help people with things like weight management, pain management, tobacco use and adjustment to chronic disease. The APA says those in this psychologist specialty can expect to serve any individual “with a disease that could be prevented, treated or rehabilitated through the use of psychological techniques or procedures.”
Most health psychologists work in a hospital or clinic. Positions can also be found at non-profit organizations, large corporations, universities, government sectors and private research facilities.
One of the more highly specialized branches of psychology is clinical neuropsychology, which focuses on the science of human behavior as it relates to the central nervous system. These professionals work with individuals who experience neurobehavioral. This can include conditions like Parkinson’s disease, dementia, traumatic brain injuries, seizure disorders and learning disabilities.
Clinical neuropsychologists must maintain a working knowledge of neurological disorders, principles of neuroscience, brain development, neurodiagnostic techniques and behavioral manifestations of neurological disorders. Because of the specialized nature of this role, both a doctorate and some postdoctoral training are often required to pursue this type of psychology career.
Marriage and family therapists focus their work on the emotions, thoughts and behaviors of individuals, couples and families—both in relation to one another and their broader environments. As such, specialized knowledge in systemic relational systems is required in this role.
It’s typical for these types of psychologists to address a wide range of clinical problems. These can include alcohol and drug abuse, youth problem behavior, depression, parent-child conflicts, developmental disorders, sexual or physical abuse, medical issues and more.
Some marriage and family psychologist positions prefer candidates who have a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. Programs like a Master of Arts in Psychology with a Marriage and Family Therapy concentration, however, can help hopefuls meet licensure requirements in 39 states.
Perhaps one of the most distinctive types of psychology careers, forensic psychology aims to provide psychological expertise within the judicial and legal systems. The APA reports that this includes providing services to two specific groups: the clinical-forensic population and the legal population.
On the clinical-forensic side, these psychology specialists work with and assess individuals who may appear to suffer from psychiatric disorders or present other characteristics that could impact legal decisions. This includes those involved in civil litigation and criminal or delinquency proceedings. Working with legal professionals involves assisting attorneys, courts, insurers and employers in their case work.
As with many other career fields in psychology, forensic psychologists must be doctorate-qualified. These roles can typically be found in police stations, courthouses and law firms. They can also find employment with prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers.
Individuals who have experienced disabilities due to injury or illness will likely work with rehabilitation psychologists in their journey toward recovery. Rehabilitation psychologists are doctorate-qualified professionals who help assess and treat cognitive, functional and emotional challenges with the goal of helping people with disabilities achieve some independence.
In this psychologist specialty, you have the opportunity to work with people affected by traumatic brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, limb loss, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and more. Rehabilitation psychologists also serve the caregivers and family members of individuals with disabilities.
These professionals study the science of addiction, which includes biological, psychological and social components. They often treat patients who are struggling with substance abuse, in addition to behavioral issues like gambling, shopping or sex addictions.
This area of psychology requires a deep understanding of the biophysical nature of addiction. In addition to a doctoral degree, addiction psychologists need specialized training and experience in evidence-based addiction prevention and treatment methods.
10. Sport psychology
The job of a sports psychologist isn’t all fun and games. They must use their skills to ensure optimal performance and wellbeing of athletes, who are often under enormous pressure individually and as a team. In addition, these professionals address the developmental and social aspects of participating in sports, plus systemic issues associated with sports settings and organizations.
Sport psychologists work with athletes, coaches, administrators and parents in a wide range of settings. Services provided include cognitive and behavioral skills training; counseling and clinical interventions; and consultation and training. According to the APA, one must first obtain a doctoral degree and licensure to work in this psychology field.
Find your ideal psychologist specialty
After examining different branches of psychology and outlining your career goals, mapping out the educational path to help get you there becomes that much easier. From earning your bachelor’s degree in psychology to pursuing a master’s degree and gaining valuable experience in the field, and ultimately on to earning a doctorate—wherever your journey begins or ends, University of Massachusetts Global can point you in the right direction.
You might be surprised to find how many educational options UMass Global offers both at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. Explore all programs.
*This article was originally published in 2019 and was last updated April 21, 2021.
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